Report sharpens debate over spaceship costs

SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner
An artist’s conception shows Boeing’s Starliner capsule and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon craft. (NASA Graphic)

Boeing is in line to get paid substantially more per seat than SpaceX for astronaut trips to the International Space Station, in part because it negotiated an increase in what was meant to be a fixed-cost contract, NASA’s Office of the Inspector General says in a watchdog report.

The 53-page report, issued Nov. 14, estimates the per-seat cost for flights on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule at $90 million, which would be more than the $84 million or so that NASA has been paying the Russians for rides on their Soyuz spacecraft. In contrast, the price for a seat on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was estimated at $55 million.

In response, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that “this doesn’t seem right.” He said it was “not fair that Boeing gets so much more for the same thing.

Boeing, meanwhile, took issue with the way the figures were calculated. And while the officials in charge of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program generally accepted the report’s findings, they said Boeing’s increased payout was fairly negotiated.

The inspector general’s report fueled criticism over cost overruns and scheduling delays in the development of commercial space taxis for transporting astronauts to and from the space station. NASA has had to rely on the Russians for such rides since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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